Wednesday 21 March 2018

In the Heart of the Sea review: 'How did Ron Howard manage to it look and sound so positively underwhelming?'

Brendan Gleeson in In the Heart of the Sea
Brendan Gleeson in In the Heart of the Sea

Chris Wasser

Why didn’t they call it ‘Moby-Dick’, eh? The answer — if you’ll allow us to quote the tagline — is because director Ron Howard’s In the Heart of the Sea is, in fact, “based on the incredible true story that inspired Moby-Dick”. Now, that’s me back in my box.


Indeed, Howard had more than enough material to work from when it came to reconstructing the sinking of the American whale-ship Essex in the Southern Pacific Ocean in 1820, when a

super-sized sperm whale went ballistic after Captain George Pollard, Jr and his boys attempted to mark their territory. Fascinating stuff, for sure, and one Herman Melville eventually got a masterpiece of a novel out of it.

But one of the more curious aspects of this extraordinary story is how poor Ron managed to make a film about a bunch of sailor lads chasing a mega water beast across the Pacific look and sound so positively underwhelming.

Cillian Murphy in In the Heart of the Sea
Cillian Murphy in In the Heart of the Sea

Is it the disjointed storytelling method? We’re not sure. After all, Brendan Gleeson’s gruff turn as Thomas Nickerson, who drunkenly recounts his days as a cabin boy aboard the Essex to an eager Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) across a dinner table, is one of the more intriguing strands of Howard’s uneven piece.

How about the action elements? We have to say, the initial scenes in which the ship’s first mate, Massachusetts hunk Owen Chase (a commanding Chris Hemsworth) gets all riled up with future Moby, are visually astounding and had us holding on to the seat for dear life (we have a thing about the ocean).

Chris Hemsworth in In the Heart of the Sea
Chris Hemsworth in In the Heart of the Sea

Alas, In the Heart of the Sea is certainly ambitious, but it never quite reaches its full potential, sacrificing emotional depth, storytelling and characterisation for repetitive scraps with the whale.

We’re supposed to care about hard-nosed sea man Chase, but do we actually know anything about him? Nope. He just really wants to be captain is all. The third act, in which the crew are stranded at sea for months, resorting to cannibalism to survive, feels like a highlights reel from a far better film. This one’s only grand. Pity.


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